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The New South Wales government will relax Covid restrictions in the western Sydney local government areas subjected to harsher lockdown rules to bring them into line with the rest of the city.
The NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said the “equalisation” of rules across the whole of greater Sydney from Monday would involve an easing of restrictions in the 12 hotspot LGAs of concern.
“They have led the way in our vaccination rates, they have shown us the way, and what it means to be resilient and strong,” the premier said on Sunday.
Conditions for authorised workers and travel permit requirements will remain in west and south-west Sydney. But the changes mean fully vaccinated adults in those areas will be able to exercise outdoors with no time limits and gather in groups of five outdoors within 5km of their home.
The government also announced that from Monday 27 September public pools would be able to reopen across NSW.
Cases have plateaued in NSW in recent days. The state reported 1,083 locally acquired cases on Sunday. The state’s health department also announced that 12 people had died from the virus in the past 24 hours, including a man in his 40s from western Sydney who died at home. His Covid-19 infection was only diagnosed after his death.
The state has now recorded 55 deaths in just the past five days.
The premier issued a stark warning about the path out of the state’s long lockdown on Sunday. Berejiklian said cases were likely to rise to levels not yet seen in Australia once the target of 70% double vaccination of the adult population was reached and restrictions were eased next month.
“We will be seeing things unfold before our eyes that we have not seen before in Australia because of the pandemic,” she said.
There are currently 1,238 Covid cases being treated in hospitals across the state, with 234 people in intensive care and 123 requiring ventilation. But Berejiklian again warned that things were expected to worsen in October, when the health system, she said, would be “technically overwhelmed”.
“I don’t want to gild the lily, at 70% vaccination there is still a threat,” she said.
“We cannot have a hospitals system overrun. The best advice I have is that the rate of hospitalisation is slightly lower than we assumed, but the ICU numbers are about what we assumed, so we are anticipating our worst weeks in ICU and hospitalisations to be in October.
“We are bracing for that and know that our health system is bracing for that and staff are ready for that. But we don’t want that to materialise because at the peak there are a lot of people in ICU, the system is technically overwhelmed, even though we have planned for it and know what to do.”
The premier was asked about the prospect of reopening state borders once the vaccination targets were met and said she was “hopeful” of a change in restrictions between NSW and Victoria.
“NSW has had to confront the issues we have had before other states. I’m confident Victoria and us will be pretty much in the same place. When Victoria has 70% double dose, I am hoping there will be arrangements where there will be movement between NSW and Victoria when Victoria gets to that stage,” she said.
She was more cautious when asked about other states, including Queensland, saying that premiers in states with no current cases of Covid would likely be reluctant to ease the border closures.
She offered a warning to those states, however, that it was not possible to remain free of Covid in the long term and that cases could reach levels “higher than we have ever seen”.
“They see life differently,” she said of the Queensland government.
“All I say to all my colleagues is that even when you get 80% double dose and start opening up, you will get Covid-19 in your community. So please accept that and get ready for that.
“In fact, the Doherty report predicts that the case numbers that we will see are likely to be the highest … we have seen in Australia. But the benefit will be that people be protected with the vaccine.
“These are confronting concepts because until the Delta variant in Australia [we had] been able to deal with other strains of Covid. Delta has changed all that. Delta has turned on its head how we deal with Covid and how we will live with Covid for those reasons.”